Eventide Orville: MULTICHANNEL EFFECTS SYSTEM

In an age rapidly being defined by flavor-of-the-month plug-ins, it's heartening to see a company plunk down an uncompromising box that doesn't cut any
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In an age rapidly being defined by flavor-of-the-month plug-ins, it's heartening to see a company plunk down an uncompromising box that doesn't cut any corners. With a leap into multichannel applications, Eventide's orville takes up where the DSP4000 left off, providing two independent, powerful DSP engines, 96kHz/24-bit sampling, and multiple analog and digital I/o sections that can be addressed via a flexible software routing system. While the unit hits the pocketbook hard at $5,695 list, the orville is a state-of-the-art 3-D sound sculptor designed to offer the highest degree of control available.

FRoNT, BACK AND INSIDEThe front-panel design of the two-rackspace orville is reminiscent of Eventide's H3000 and DSP4000. Its stainless steel faceplate includes an ample backlit LCD screen with four soft keys directly below. To the left of the LCD are four nine-step LED level meters bordered by five yellow LEDs to indicate the active sampling rate (which ranges from 44.1 to 96 kHz) and orville's digital sync status (marked EXT). There's also a Bypass key to address the two DSP engines, with a pair of red status LEDs.

To the right of the display are a stack of four keys corresponding to actions specific to either DSP engine A or B. The top DSP A/B key toggles between either engine, a Program key displays a bank with its associated programs and a Select key loads programs to audition. Press the Parameter key and you can customize programs to taste. Cursor keys, an alphanumeric keypad and a large wheel let you navigate and make changes. At the far right is a Level key to access menus for metering and levels. Below it, a Setup key takes you to menus for routing, digital configuration, MIDI setup, service utilities and other options. Finally, a PCMCIA Memory card slot is available to store or load programs, as well as to upgrade the oS.

orville's back panel hints at the power within the box. Four analog inputs accept unbalanced 11/44-inch or balanced XLR connections, and are paired with four balanced XLR analog outputs. Digital inputs and outputs include AES/EBU and S/PDIF. In the unit I reviewed, an options section designed to handle future expansion provided word clock I/o ports.

There are MIDI In, out and Thru ports, two stereo 11/44-inch foot-pedal inputs, and a stereo 11/44-inch relay jack to drive other equipment. Live performers will appreciate a Remote Power in jack for MIDI pedal boards. An RS-232 serial port connects the orville to a PC for transferring and graphically editing program information with Eventide's VSigfile editor.

At the heart of the orville are its two powerful DSP engines. You can address them either in series or in parallel, and they can process both analog and digital inputs at the same time. There are several options for routing the signal path(s) to, from and between the DSP blocks, including the ability to simultaneously address eight inputs and outputs (four analog/four digital). With this "anything-to-anything" flexibility, you're working with multiple effects processors built into one system. Think of the orville as a couple of DSP4000s on steroids-and psychedelics.

BANKS AND PRoGRAMSThe main program screen is fairly straight-ahead. To distinguish which DSP block you're working with, orville displays either an "A" or a "B" in the upper left-hand corner followed by the program name. The upper right-hand corner lists the active menu page, such as Setup, Routing and so forth.

orville comes loaded with almost 900 presets (or programs) that are organized into about 80 banks. All programs are identified with sensible and occasionally amusing twists-such as an odd Eno reference with Sky Slaw. They also include useful codes for each program's operation speed and routing information. For example, the program Quad Spatializer includes a lightning bolt icon to denote that, in addition to handling 44.1 and 48 kHz, it is optimized for 88.2 or 96kHz operation. Next to the bolt is "24," reflecting the number of inputs being processed (two) and outputs being used (four). The most common routing choices in orville's factory presets include "22," "14," "24" and "44," with an occasional "02" and "04" where the preset is only generating at the output (i.e., a test tone).

If you wish to modify a program, punch the Parameter button to go to a deeper level. Depending on the program, there may be several pages of parameters at your disposal. To handle this, orville imports a convention from the DSP4000 of stacking menus associated with a soft key. For example, if there are numerous EQ settings to adjust, you can access them quickly. Pressing a soft key a couple of times calls up EQ settings in succession, and you can key or dial in your changes.

Several programs include an Expert mode that gives you added parameters to tweak. This mode can be set between 0 and 9, proportional to the number of parameters you want to see when editing.

orville has a couple of useful conventions for organizing programs. It maintains a Favorites bank where up to 16 of the most recently loaded programs are linked. These locations remain even after you've powered down. Another feature is "linking," whereby you can set up aliases in a new bank that link to programs you want to keep in one place. This saves you the hassle of copying programs into a new bank, and it saves space.

The machine handles 100 internal banks, and each bank holds as many as 128 programs. Improving on the DSP4000, 500KB of internal memory is available for storing programs. A program typically uses from 1 to 16 KB of space, leaving room for 30 to 100 total programs. To store your work, orville accepts static RAM (SRAM) cards that come in sizes as large as 4 MB. As a bonus, orville can convert almost all of the DSP4000's presets, too.

RoUTING FRENZY(oR, THE PATCH EDIToR)orville sounds great out of the box, but even with so many presets to choose from and modify, it would be foolish not to experiment in creating and editing programs. This system invites you get your hands dirty and provides the same sensible patch editing environment that Eventide introduced with the DSP4000.

Using the object-oriented approach explored in opcode's Max, more than 150 modules can be selected and patched together in orville to create algorithms from scratch. These modules can range from nitty-gritty math functions to audio oscillators, envelope generators and filters, to stand-alone samplers, compressors, reverbs and pitch shifters. Each exists as a block ready to be inserted and connected to the next. Given the complexity of this system, Eventide provides a well-written separate programming manual that describes all of the modules' functions in detail. I found that I liked to learn the system by looking closely at existing presets and working backward, examining each connection and its relationship.

once you're comfortable with different modules, you can start from scratch by loading the Empty Program preset in the dedicated Programming bank. Pressing and holding Parameters brings up the main Patch Editor screen with an IN (or Head) and oUT module. Using the Connect soft key, you can methodically link modules from source to destination. orville prompts you with phrases like "Connect to what?" and "Connect to which output?" Scroll through a list of modules, select the one you want and it's reflected on screen. You can always delete, unplug or modify a module's parameters, and choose to only view patches with audio objects (sampler), control objects (math operation) or miscellaneous-this helps to somewhat simplify a crowded screen.

orville also lets you scroll back and forth and up and down the screen to view your patches. While this may have been manageable in the DSP4000, it gets pretty tedious when programming in orville. If you have a PC-compatible running at least Windows 3.1, you can run VSigfile, a graphic interface for programming orville. In fact, if you're going to shell out the dough for this box, get a cheap 486 PC just for the large color screen. VSigfile is critical for creative programming, especially when you start branching out into wacky, multichannel routing.

YoU'RE SURRoUNDEDorville programs are everything you'd expect. They include favorites from the DSP4000, but among the several choice enhancements are sampler programs that let you audition, record and play back material faster than any sampler I've used, and include about three minutes of sampling time. For instrumentalists, there are various great tap delay programs, and with its large memory, orville is the ultimate looping machine-Eventide clearly has a fondness for guitarists. The reverbs are beautiful and feature smooth, transparent decays in the large hall and plate programs.

one of orville's strongest suits remains its consistently pleasing Harmonizer and pitch-shifting algorithms. They've even improved on the pitch shifter with Ultrashifter(tm), a formant-correct algorithm for vocals that's truly seamless.

But the real reason to get this unit is for surround work. Delays, pitch shifters, equalizers, filters, panners and reverbs are all given multichannel treatments. My favorites include thick programs like Beyond the Stars, with its ring modulation, delay and detuning algorithm soup. There's also Quad Spatializer, a fantastic effect that lets you scroll in room dimensions and place a sound in a specific location. There's even a pseudo 3-D setting in Stereo 3-D Circle that uses delays, reverbs and filters to create the illusion of a circle with two speakers. Then there's JoyStikPanner_Q, a quad panning algorithm controlled via a joystick. This is bliss.

Consider that you can take a mono recording, selectively pan certain frequency bands and then send them to the rear speakers. Then, you can set a threshold to trigger an LFo, modulating a filter on sounds in the rear speakers and having them echo back to the front. You can then control the feedback of the echo in real time with a MIDI controller. Your options are endless.

BACK To THE LABI give up. I can't find much wrong with orville. I abuse this unit for days at a time and its chassis remains cool under pressure. While a couple of programs had a nasty noise burst upon engaging, these are the only minor complaints I can muster. My wish list? A Lightpipe connection would be useful. Also, Eventide should establish a section on its Web site for people to share VSigfiles. There is good news for post-production engineers: Eventide will be introducing a long-anticipated remote control unit for orville at this month's NAB show.

This is a monster in a box that will keep any engineer/programmer happily busy. If a myriad of excellent processing and routing options make your day, then save your pennies and fetch your white lab coat. orville is truly a musical instrument. Let the mad scientist play.

Eventide , Inc. one Alsan Way, Little Ferry, NJ 07643; 201/641-1200; fax 201/641-1640; www.eventide.com.